Balancing villains means adding the counterweight to your writing.

By David Ritchie

When writing fiction for young readers, you have to balance opposites. How? Create counterweights, so to speak, that keep characters and story in balance. This is why, in action stories, crafting the villain is so important. He’s the counterweight to the hero.

Here are two rules that work for me. 

1. Make the villain a strong opponent for the hero, or else the hero is no hero at all.

2. But meanwhile, give the villain a weakness to balance his strength. Then the hero can use that weakness against him.

Choosing the weakness is up to you. It could be pride, greed, ignorance, overconfidence, or inflexibility. Or … the villain’s very strength can be his weakness too. Every strength, you see, carries a weakness with it.

Here is how that idea worked for me, in Bigfoot and the Bear Invasion.

The villain, warlike General Bello Bear, believes that force is everything, might makes right, and violence conquers all. With one strong blow, he plans to rout his law-abiding opponents in Bigfoot’s forest, then enslave them, through a surprise attack. Up to a point, the bear is right. Brute force can accomplish a lot. But this view leaves him blind to something else.

A civilized, law-abiding society is strong too, because its people are used to working together. And together, they can turn back even the most brutal invader.

Yes, the bear is a powerful enemy. But his strength in warfare is also his undoing, because he thinks it is the only kind of strength. That is his big mistake … and Bigfoot knows how to use it against him.

I won’t spoil the story for you. Let’s just say that Bigfoot uses the weakness in the foe’s own strength to defeat him. The villain’s violence rebounds upon him, while Bigfoot need use only the smallest part of his own might.

See balance at work? A strong villain balances a strong hero. Meanwhile, a corresponding weakness balances — and ultimately annuls — the villain’s power. For another example of this principle at work, look at Boris Badenov, the comic villain in the old Bullwinklecartoons. A heartless killer, Boris is truly dangerous. He will stop at nothing to “keel moose and squirrel!” Yet his absurdly narrow outlook always brings him down, and makes him funny as well. In Boris, the ridiculous balances the evil. Result: a classic cartoon, still fun after 50 years.

So, create counterweights, both in your characters and in the story. That makes the story a story … and not just an anecdote.

One last note about General Bello Bear. He is modeled after a real person — a famous 20th-century leader whose career resembled the general’s own. See if you can guess who he was. Hint: look at the general’s jaw.

(David Ritchie posts from Southeast Asia. Author of the “Bigfoot Tales” series from Darakwon Press, he welcomes correspondence. Contact: Twitter: @EGhostwriter. This post originally appeared at “The Galloping Ghostwriter,”


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1 Response to Balancing villains means adding the counterweight to your writing.

  1. Teresa Cleveland Wendel says:

    Great rules. I’ve written for magazines and newspapers for 20+ years, and never have I thought of it that way. It’s always been, “Your hero has a problem. How does he solve it?” I like your take on it better, and will definitely utilize the two rules in future writing. Thanks.

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